BEIJING (AFP) – China’s trade surplus with the United States narrowed last year as the world’s two biggest economies exchanged punitive tariffs in a bruising trade war, data showed Tuesday, just as the two prepare to sign a deal dialling down tensions.
The huge difference in trade traffic is a key bone of contention for Donald Trump in a long-running stand-off that has seen him impose tariffs on goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars, triggering retaliation from Beijing and jolting the global economy.
China’s surplus came in at around $295.8 billion in 2019, down 8.5 percent from the previous year’s record $323.3 billion, according to customs data.
In December, its surplus with the US was around $23.2 billion, from $24.6 billion the month before.
The mini trade deal announced last month will see Beijing buy an extra $200 billion of US products over a two-year period, according to Washington officials. China has yet to publicly confirm the figures.
The Trump administration called off new tariffs on Chinese-made goods such as electronics that were to take effect last month. It also halved those imposed on September 1 on $120 billion worth of products.
But Washington maintains 25 percent tariffs on about $250 billion worth of Chinese imports.
In a further sign of de-escalation, Washington on Monday removed the currency manipulator label it imposed on China in the summer.
At a news conference on Tuesday, spokesman for the customs administration Zou Zhiwu said that since November and December, Chinese imports from the US including of soybeans and pork have picked up.
Zou added that the increased imports from the US will not affect China’s purchases from other countries.
He also said the trade tensions had “put some pressure on China’s foreign trade and firms that largely trade with the US.”
“Although our exports to the US have declined, the effectiveness of enterprises diversifying their markets has been significant,” he said, adding that exports to non-US markets have risen and overall exports are still rising.
The signing of the new trade deal, which is part of a planned wider pact, will have an “important and positive significance” not just for China and the US but also the rest of the world, Zou said.
China’s foreign trade volume fell slightly on-year in 2019, and its surplus with the world stood at $421.5 billion.
In December, China’s exports rose 7.6 percent on-year, the growth since July and above the 2.9 percent forecast in a Bloomberg News survey. Imports surged 16.3 percent, far exceeding estimates.
For the full year, exports rose 0.5 percent while imports fell 2.8 percent.
Meat imports spiked over the past 12 months as officials brought in 2.108 million ton of pork – a 75 percent increase from the year before, while beef imports rose 60 percent.